Big East M5: 01.31.14 Edition

Posted by George Hershey on January 31st, 2014

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  1. Creighton and Villanova have shot up the rankings this season with great guard play and effective outside shooting. ESPN‘s John Gasaway wrote an article recently looking at the teams with the highest percentage of attempts that come from behind the arc. Creighton takes 43.1 percent of its shots from deep, but Gasaway points out how effective they have become at shooting two-pointers (54.8 percent of their twos in conference action) and how their defense is also much improved (surrendering 1.02 points per possession). Villanova has a similar profile in all three aspects. They take 42.7 percent of their shots from three, making 54 percent of their twos and allowing 1.04 points per possession. It’s interesting just how similar the two best teams in the league are and we will probably see a much closer game the second time these teams meet in Omaha. 
  2. Former Ohio State walk-on and current Grantland writer Mark Titus may not have the most accurate power rankings out there, but he definitely has the funniest. Titus likes to make jokes, but he is also very smart about basketball and makes compelling points along the way. This week he has Creighton Doug McDermott in his eighth national spot. Although he jokes about McDermott and his impressive recent play, he has a great quote about Creighton as a team, saying, “The Bluejays have become appointment viewing. If their shooting outburst against Villanova wasn’t enough to convince you of this, McDermott’s heroic effort should cement their status. No matter who they’re playing, you can turn on a Creighton game and be pretty sure you’re going to be thoroughly entertained for two hours.” The team’s ability to go off at any time and McDermott’s NPOY-level play has truly made this team a can’t-miss viewing appointment. 
  3. Buzz Williams must have been listening to all the Marquette writers and fans this week. With articles from Cracked Sidewalks, Anonymous Eagle, and Paint Touches all calling for the underclassmen to get more playing time, Williams put JaJuan Johnson and Deonte Burton into the starting lineup in last night’s impressive win, with John Dawson coming off the bench early. All three played at least 10 minutes while Burton led the trio with nine points and six rebounds. The key with the freshman is to remain aggressive while staying under control and understanding the situation. They showed their confidence attacking the rim and being pesky on defense, but also forced a few unnecessary shots. It seems like Williams likes the energy and production they bring which should help them get more comfortable with the college game in preparation for next season.
  4. Seton Hall has its first McDonald’s All-American since Andre Barrett and Eddie Griffin arrived in 2000. Coney Island native Isaiah Whitehead was named to the team on Wednesday as he finishes up an outstanding high school career. Zach Braziller at the New York Post talked to Whitehead after the announcement, as he follows in the footsteps of Lincoln High School legends Stephon Marbury, Sebastian Telfair and Lance Stephenson. This is a great honor for Whitehead and his arrival next year should excite Seton Hall fans as he leads a stellar class of New York and New Jersey local products.
  5. With the losses of Brandon Austin, Kris Nunn, and Rodney Bullock, Providence guard Josh Fortune has had to consistently play almost the entire game throughout conference play. He has played at least 30 minutes in all but one game, and even played 50 (!) against St. John’s. While Fortune has played a key role for the Friars as Bryce Cotton’s backcourt mate, he has had to focus on basketball while his mother is stationed 6,000 miles away as a colonel in the Army. Kevin McNamara writes about life off the court and how Fortune has to deal with the intermittent communication with his mother. Fortunately for head coach Ed Cooley, Fortune has stepped up and been a consistent producer all season, helping Providence battle for what appeared to be an unlikely NCAA Tournament berth.
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Checking in on… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 21st, 2014

With New Mexico taking a home loss to UNLV this week and Nevada slipping back to reality a bit, San Diego State is all alone in the driver’s seat, the last remaining undefeated team in conference play. Now with a 15-game winning streak, the Aztecs have earned their way into the #11 spot in the latest RTC Top 25. Beyond Steve Fisher’s club, however, there are a lot of question marks. The Lobos are the clear #2 team in the conference, but questions remain about their long-term NCAA Tournament aspirations. Our resident bracketologist has them firmly in the field, but future home losses to middling teams are not recommended.

Team of the Week

Boise State Got Back On Track This Week, In Part Due With A Home Win Over Utah State (Devin Ferrell, The Arbiter)

Boise State Got Back On Track This Week, In Part Due With A Home Win Over Utah State. (Devin Ferrell, The Arbiter)

Boise State – The Broncos bounced back from a pair of losses with a very good week. They went on the road and handed Nevada its first loss of the season, and anytime you can get a road win in conference play – no matter what conference you’re in, but especially in this one – you’re doing something right. Then on Saturday they handled Utah State and have seemingly righted the ship, at least for now. Derrick Marks led the way with 20 points per game this week, but it was a full-team affair, with Ryan Watkins helping the Broncos control the paint and Anthony Drmic being his usual solid self. And there was even one more Bronco who made a big and surprising contribution this week, who we’ll get to shortly.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 14th, 2014

Go home Mountain West, you’re drunk! How else to explain looking at the standings two weeks in and seeing Nevada – they of the eight non-conference losses, including to such luminaries as Pacific, Cal State Bakersfield, Morehead State, and New Orleans – alone atop the conference standings? How about Boise State and UNLV, two teams expected to contend for NCAA Tournament bids prior to the season, sitting back at 1-2? How about the worst team in the conference, San Jose State, giving New Mexico everything the Lobos can handle? How about the conference, home of terrific home court advantages up and down the West, sporting just a combined 10-9 record in league play so far? How about a San Diego State team in a rebuilding year with a work-in-progress offense carrying the banner for the conference with a top 15 ranking in the most recent RTC Top 25? Face it. Not a lot in this conference makes a ton of sense this year. And it is fascinating.

Deonte Burton Has Led A Wolf Pack Resurgence In Conference Play (US Presswire)

Deonte Burton Has Led A Wolf Pack Resurgence In Conference Play. (US Presswire)

Team of the Week

Nevada – This team was – not to put too fine a point on it – awful in the non-conference. They didn’t share they ball, they couldn’t rebound, they couldn’t defend. Less patient athletic directors may have begun their next coaching searches before Christmas. Now, while we’ve still no reason to suspect that the Wolf Pack are actually going to challenge for the conference title, much less an NCAA Tournament bid, these guys have turned into a real team. You actually want to find a way to watch them just to see what’s going on. They’ve got an NBA talent in Deonte Burton; they’ve got newcomer A.J. West providing some toughness up front; and they’ve got a handful of talented ancillary parts. And with sophomore Marqueze Coleman now back from injury, they’re starting to get back to whole. And – get this – they’re actually allowing less than a point per possession in four conference games. Maybe you can believe in this team, at least for a little while.

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A College Basketball Resolution For 2014: Get To Know Nevada’s Deonte Burton

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 9th, 2014

There’s a chance, Mr. or Mrs. Diehard college hoops fan, that you don’t know who Deonte Burton is. No, we aren’t talking about the Marquette swingman (although that might also be a conversation worth having, after he authored this late entry for the dunk of 2013). The Deonte Burton you need to know had produced a trio of productive individual campaigns before this 2013-14 season, but here in his final go-around, both the volume and efficiency of that production has exploded. Finding a national spotlight can be difficult when you are starring on a mediocre team in a self-proclaimed “little city” (even if it may be the “biggest little city in the world”), but it’s time for folks outside of Reno to start taking note of Nevada’s explosive senior. And if the surprising Wolfpack’s newfound winning ways somehow manage to keep up? There will be no choice but to appreciate the player at the center of the surge.

He Has Been Brilliant All Season, But Deonte Burton Put On A Special Show Wednesday Night At The Thomas And Mack Center- Even By His Lofty Standards

He Has Been Brilliant All Season, But Deonte Burton Put On A Special Show Wednesday Night At The Thomas And Mack Center- Even By His Lofty Standards

After a 74-71 victory over UNLV in Las Vegas on Wednesday night, Nevada is suddenly alone atop the Mountain West at 3-0. The quick start marks a drastic reversal of fortune for a team that won just three conference games all of last season, and entered 2014 with an entirely underwhelming 5-8 overall record. Wins over San Jose State (on the road) and Wyoming set the stage for the Wolfpack’s victory in the battle for the Silver State, but this latest triumph was far from guaranteed early. UNLV built an 11-point lead late in the first half, but in those critical pre-intermission minutes when second-half momentum is always on the line, Burton snatched all that impetus the Rebels had previously held. In the span of 80 seconds, three consecutive contested, step-back Burton jumpers found the bottom of the net, and the Wolfpack headed to the locker room down just two. It was as acute a pivot point in momentum as you will find, and it propelled Nevada to an 11-0 run out of the locker room. This spurt created some permanent separation, as the UNLV deficit wouldn’t shrink to below six again until the meaningless final seconds.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 24th, 2013

Last year, the Mountain West Conference earned, and received, five bids to the NCAA Tournament. Once there, things did not go as planned, but regardless, it was a good regular season for the conference, with non-conference neutral-site wins over UCLA and Connecticut along with road wins against California, Washington, Creighton, and Cincinnati, plenty of home wins and bad losses being kept to an absolute minimum except for the very bottom of the conference. This year, with some talented players leaving the conference, there was little doubt that a step back was due. But with just four teams currently in the top 100 of the RPI, a couple of teams sitting below 270, and the overall conference RPI ninth in the nation, any prayer of getting five teams dancing again can be forgotten. Now the question is, can they get three?

Team of the Week

Utah State – Slim pickings this week, as it seems like every team that played a halfway decent opponent came away with at least one loss. But the Aggies took care of business at the Basketball Travelers Classic on its own campus. While the bookend wins over Western Illinois and Troy don’t do much for anyone, the middle game, a six-point overtime win over a good UC Santa Barbara team, is a nice accomplishment. Especially considering the fact that the Aggies fought back from an eight-point deficit at the under-four timeout, and did so without center Jarred Shaw, who is suspended indefinitely. More on Shaw below.

Spencer Butterfield Had A Career-High In Helping Utah State Knock Off UC Santa Barbara In Overtime (John Zsiray, AP Photo)

Spencer Butterfield Had A Career-High In Helping Utah State Knock Off UC Santa Barbara In Overtime (John Zsiray, AP Photo)

Player of the Week

Larry Nance, Jr, Junior, Wyoming – The Cowboys have taken two losses in a span of three games since we last did this, but that isn’t Nance’s fault. Against Denver last weekend, Nance broke out for a career-high 38 points on 15/21 shooting, adding 12 boards for good measure. Then on Friday, against Southern Methodist, he backed that up with 16 points, 13 boards and three blocks. And last night he had 29 points on 14 field goal attempts, while grabbing 13 boards and blocking three shots against Northern Colorado. All told, that’s 27.7 PPG, 12.7 RPG, 2 BPG, and a 72.8 eFG% in those three games.

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Last Week’s Villanova and Marquette Tournament Runs Spurred by Freshmen

Posted by George Hershey on December 4th, 2013

The college basketball world was amazed by Villanova’s surprising run to the Battle 4 Atlantis championship last weekend. After having a relatively easy start to the season, the Wildcats landed in the Bahamas and beat USC prior to a match-up with the #2 ranked team in the nation, Kansas, followed by a battle against #23 Iowa in the title game. Seasoned veterans James Bell, JayVaughn Pinkston and Ryan Arcidiacono helped lead the team on its stunning run, but the play of freshmen Josh Hart and Kris Jenkins, especially in the championship game, was instrumental and a major reason the Wildcats came out on top.

Josh Hart helped secure the Battle 4 Atlantis Championship (Tim Aylen/AP)

Josh Hart helped secure the Battle 4 Atlantis Championship
(Tim Aylen/AP)

Marquette also made a run to the championship game of the Wooden Legacy tournament in California. Although the Golden Eagles lost to San Diego State in a tight championship game on Sunday night, leading scorer Davante Gardner played with the flu and Derrick Wilson looked to have hurt his groin, rendering him mostly incapable of playing in the second half. Despite those problems, Buzz Williams’ team was able to make it a close game and had a chance to win at the end because of the remarkable play of freshman Deonte Burton. Fellow freshman JaJuan Johnson also was instrumental in beating Cal State Fullerton and played well against Arizona State in the other two games.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 3rd, 2013

Hooray! The Mountain West has its hero. November is in the books and the conference finally has a victory worth crowing about under its collective belt. In fact, San Diego State scored a couple really meaningful wins this week at the Wooden Legacy, knocking off both Creighton and Marquette to earn the tournament title. Still, I for one have yet to put a MW team in my weekly national Top 25. I’ve considered New Mexico previously and have kept them just on the outside looking in. Boise State also remains in the back of my mind, where they’ll stay until they play anybody of note. And the Aztecs were among my final cuts this week. So what leaves SDSU still needing to prove itself? I know they’re going to defend like nuts all year long and stay in games that way, but I just don’t believe that Xavier Thames is going to be able to knock down shots at his current rate forever, and aside from him, there aren’t a whole lot of polished offensive players on this team. Still, there is no denying that the Aztecs have looked awfully good so far this year and are beginning to earn the benefit of my doubt.

Xavier Thames and A Boisterous Crowd Helped San Diego State Capture The Wooden Legacy Title (USA Today Sports)

Xavier Thames and A Boisterous Crowd Helped San Diego State Capture The Wooden Legacy Title (USA Today Sports)

Team of the Week

San Diego State – We’ll get to Thames shortly, but there have been a lot of guys stepping up for this squad who deserve attention. J.J. O’Brien has been the most regular second option for the Aztecs, averaging nearly 14 points per game before a hand injury limited his production on Sunday. Matt Shrigley has emerged from his redshirt year to display not only a nice shooting touch but a good game off the bounce. Winston Shepard has clearly worked on his body and his game in the offseason, and he’s well on his way to becoming a great college player. And true freshman Dakarai Allen is out of the gates with a strong start to his college career. Even if Thames does slow down a bit, there are some options here who could pick up the slack.

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 26th, 2013

We’re a little more than two weeks into the season and the best win among all 11 Mountain West conference teams is: what? New Mexico in a double-overtime miracle over a UAB team that was under .500 last season? Utah State over UC Santa Barbara without its best player? Colorado State over Weber State? Meanwhile, among the dregs of the conference, you’ve got losses to luminaries like Pacific (twice no less), Cal State Bakersfield, Morehead State, Santa Clara, Milwaukee, Northern Illinois, James Madison, VMI and Jackson State. Not exactly painting a pretty picture, am I? While the Lobos will have plenty of chances over the next three weeks to score some pretty nice non-conference victories, the other best hopes in this conference have pretty slim pickings on their non-conference slates. Outside of this weekend in Orange County at the Wooden Legacy, San Diego State will have to win at Kansas in order to garner a really solid non-conference win; good luck with that. Boise State has a road trip to Rupp Arena in a couple weeks to face Kentucky’s freshmen, otherwise its only “up” game non-conference game prior to the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas is a home game against Saint Mary’s. And Utah State’s only non-conference game of consequence is against BYU on Saturday. In other words, you can not only completely forget about any possibility of five bids to the NCAA Tournament come March, three may be significantly stretching the matter.

Team of the Week

Anthony Drmic And Boise State Are Off To An Impressive Offensive Start, But Haven't Played Anybody

Anthony Drmic And Boise State Are Off To An Impressive Offensive Start, But Haven’t Played Anybody.

Boise State – It is slim pickings out there, so we’ll go with the Broncos for their home win over Seattle and road win over New Orleans. Told you it was grim out there.

Player of the Week

Alex Kirk, Jr, New Mexico – Another week, another New Mexico big man. This time it is Kirk for his three double-doubles in the Charleston Classic. For the week, the native New Mexican averaged 21.3 points, 12 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game, and even threw in five three-pointers for good measure. Read the rest of this entry »

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Checking In On… the Mountain West

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 19th, 2013

Last year about this time, the Mountain West’s record as a collective was 27-3. Sure, there wasn’t a large number of top shelf wins among those 27, but they were wins. This year the teams are a combined 19-12. UNLV lost by 21 at home to UC Santa Barbara. Colorado State got drilled by 32 at Gonzaga. Nevada lost at home to Pacific. Fresno State lost by 21 at Pitt. Air Force has lost to Jackson State and VMI. And newcomer San Jose State has lost to everybody it has faced, and that certainly hasn’t been a murderer’s row. Last year, the conference as a whole rode its strong RPI numbers, built up by a collection of a mostly good teams, to a best-ever five NCAA Tournament bids. This year, it remains to be seen just how good teams the teams at the top are, while the middle of the conference seems significantly weaker than it was last year, and the bottom of the conference even worse. Too long, didn’t read? The takeaway is there isn’t a chance in a million that the Mountain West sends five teams dancing this year.

Team of the Week

Utah State – The Aggies are one of the newcomers in the conference, but they’re off to a fine start, having won all three of their games including one over USC and another over that UCSB team that beat up on MW heavyweight UNLV. Behind veteran trio Spencer Butterfield, Preston Medlin and Jarred Shaw, Utah State looks like it will have an easy transition to its new conference.

Cameron Bairstow Has Been On Fire Out Of The Gate For the Lobos (Eric Draper, AP Photo)

Bairstow Has Been On Fire Out Of The Gate For the Lobos (Eric Draper, AP Photo)

Player of the Week

Cameron Bairstow, Sr, New Mexico – There may not be a player in the country who has improved as much as Bairstow in his four years in Albuquerque. As a freshman, he was notable only for his below-the-rim, scrappy style, as he averaged fewer than 10 minutes per game and fewer than three points per outing. But thus far this season, the 6’9” Aussie has been almost unstoppable, averaging 25.5 points, eight rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game, all while shooting 78.3 percent from the field. Oh, and not to be outdone, his frontcourt mate Alex Kirk has double-doubled in both his games on the way to 20 points and 12 rebounds per game averages.

Newcomer of the Week

Paul Watson, Fr, Fresno State – The 6’6” freshman out of Phoenix doesn’t have the type of body yet to lead you to believe he would succeed playing up front in major college basketball. But out of necessity, Watson has been forced to play the role of a big man for the Bulldogs. And, so far so good, as he’s averaged five rebounds a night, has scored both around the basket and from deep, and has eaten up minutes. There’s a big future for this Dog.

Power Rankings

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Evaluating Marquette After the Ohio State Loss

Posted by George Hershey on November 19th, 2013

Marquette fans were disheartened after Saturday’s home loss to Ohio State, ending the nation’s longest active home winning streak at 27 games. The Golden Eagles managed to only score 35 points and looked hopeless offensively all game long. They ended up shooting 18 percent from the floor and went a miserable 1-of-18 on threes. Pundits from around the nation were criticizing and making fun of the Golden Eagles’ ineptitude on the offensive end. The Golden Eagles definitely deserved it after the tough loss, but contrary to what some may have you believe, the season is not over and there is still plenty to look forward to. Here are three quick reasons why Marquette will have another successful season regardless of what happened over the weekend.

Marquette's youngsters will need to start contributing more to ease the worries of Williams. (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

Marquette’s youngsters will need to start contributing more to ease the worries of Williams. (Mike McGinnis/Getty Images)

  1. They held an experienced and talented team to 53 points: Lost in the fact that Marquette couldn’t score is that the Buckeyes weren’t all that impressive on the offensive end either, largely due to the Golden Eagles’ defense. Derrick Wilson brings a defensive tenacity to the point guard position unlike any other player on the team. Last year he was used to harass and wear down opposing lead guards, such as in his first career start where he limited Wisconsin star Jordan Taylor to 13 points and forced him into five turnovers in a key win over the Badgers. Jamil Wilson, Juan Anderson, and Steve Taylor Jr. are big guys who are capable of guarding multiple positions with their length and athleticism. Wilson has averaged over a block per game the past two seasons while seeing time at center and both forward spots. Chris Otule has also averaged over a block in each of the past four seasons and with his improved mobility after recovery from knee surgery, he should flourish this season, allowing Williams to play he and Davante Gardner together. The team has not had much of a problem with the new foul rules, so as long as they continue to build team chemistry, the Golden Eagles should again sport an elite defense as evidenced by their sixth-ranked adjusted defensive rating from Ken Pomeroy. Read the rest of this entry »
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